Individualized call types, such as signature whistles, are extremely rare and have been found in humans, dolphins, and some parrot species. These species are also capable of vocal production learning meaning that their communication system is not innate. They must learn how to produce sounds and use them in the correct context, just like humans. Currently, we don’t know really know how complex dolphin communication systems really are, what the majority of dolphin calls mean, or if some species have more complex communication systems than others but studies involving signature whistles have been promising.
Signature whistles were first discovered in captive bottlenose dolphins (Caldwell & Caldwell, 1965) and were later identified in six other dolphin species (Herzing, 1996; Janik & Sayigh, 2013). Once a new species is confirmed to have signature whistles further studies can be done to determine how they use signature whistles in specific contexts. Currently, our knowledge of dolphin communication has come primarily from bottlenose dolphins. If signature whistles are confirmed in rough-tooth dolphins this could provide researchers with an alternate species of comparison for broadening our knowledge of dolphin communication.
We will be conducting recordings from six rough-tooth dolphins in order to determine if rough-tooth dolphins emit a predominant, stereotyped, individualized whistle type when they are isolated from other group members. A large portion of the funding for this project will go toward the purchase of equipment which can be used for subsequent rough-tooth dolphin communication studies that are planned.
“The thing I like about scientific discovery is that you can truly change the world by uncovering the unknown.”
― Steven Magee
Dr. Megan Broadway is the founder of The Rough Tooth Project and its nonprofit fiscal sponsor, the Coalition for the Advancement of Scientific Research. Her research experience has focused on marine mammals, sea turtles, and dogs and has included everything from satellite tagging sea turtles to passive acoustic monitoring of dolphin vocalizations. Her recent work focused on how bottlenose dolphins use signature whistles when a new individual is introduced to an existing group. This included analysis of over 30 hours of audio recordings, 13 hours of behavioral observations, and 5000 whistles.
Dr. Heidi Lyn is an Associate Professor at the University of South Alabama. Her work includes data from many species including apes, dogs, and marine mammals with a focus on questions surrounding the evolution of communication, cognition, and language. She first began working with dolphins in 1991 at the Kewalo Basin Marine mammal laboratory in Honolulu continues to this day. She has over 20 publications, which have been cited over 600 times.
For over 25 years, Dr. Leala Sayigh's research has focused on the social behavior and communication of cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Her current projects focus on a wide range of species, including blue whales, fin whales, pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins, and are both applied (e.g., looking at effects of anthropogenic noise on communication) and basic (e.g., looking at call structure and function). Given the challenges of studying species that spend most of their lives underwater, she is involved in research that utilizes new technologies, such as non-invasive tags, to study cetacean communication systems.